Upon reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf last year I decided that I would quit wearing makeup cold turkey. Grossly oversimplifying Ms. Wolf’s feminist stance, I felt that the cosmetics industry has enslaved women where law, politics, and culture used to and until we can accept how we look naturally, women will never really be equal to men. After mulling it over and reflecting on my Barnard College education I decided to stop wearing makeup. Here is a diary from the 1 week that I spent make up free. Here we go, just me Katherine, au naturel.
Day 1 – Monday
I set my alarm clock 10 minutes later this morning. Bliss! A whole extra 10 minutes of sleep. They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing, I really did feel better for it, and if I felt better, I must look better, no? Strangely, I didn’t really take notice of what I looked like since my usual routine was a little off. I just headed straight out the door instead.
When I got to work, many of my colleagues remarked that I didn’t look well. I proudly announced that I was perfectly well but that I had decided to stop wearing makeup. A few gasps were uttered but generally everyone was supportive if not a bit sceptical whether or not I was tough enough go through with it (I do have the reputation for being bit of a girly girl). I work with 19 women and 1 man so there was a lot of interest in my little experiment.
Over the course of the day I took a few trips to the bathroom (because nature calls, not because I wanted to see how I looked!) However, when I looked at myself in the mirror under the unforgiving lights I didn’t look bad, just strange. It was sort of like I didn’t recognize myself. I was just blank, none of my features really stood out as looking bad or good. I was expecting to think that I looked bad, so I was caught off guard to feel neutral. Oh well, that seemed like a good start to the experiment.
Day 2 – Tuesday
Another great morning of extra sleep and then I headed straight out the door. I got a few more comments about my tired/sick looking self from the people who didn’t see me yesterday. I started to take offence slightly, did I really look THAT bad in the first place? Upon closer inspection in the mirror in the toilets I noticed dark blue circles under my eyes. I hadn’t noticed them yesterday. Do I always have those? I wondered. I didn’t feel tired so I wondered why the dark circles were there. Either I was more tired than I thought or they are a permanent fixture on my face and I never noticed because they’re always covered up with concealer.
Day 3 – Wednesday
In the afternoon one of my colleagues, who I also consider a close personal friend pulled me aside to ask how I was feeling. I nearly lost it. “I’m not sick! I’m just not wearing makeup!” “No, that’s not it.” She insisted “I think you really look like you’re coming down with something. I will admit, it was a particularly stressful week, but I was feeling exactly how I feel every Wednesday. The comments were starting to get tiring.
Day 4 – Thursday
I no longer got a thrill from waking up 10 minutes later today. In fact, by this point I’d grown completely accustomed to waking up at the new time and I couldn’t imagine setting my alarm back 10 minutes. I now completely hated the way I looked in the mirrors at work. Besides the dark circles, my complexion looked sallow, completely lacking any brilliance and worst of all, I felt ugly. Generally speaking I suffer from particularly high self esteem (not sure why but I am lucky that I do) so this was a new feeling for me and I hated it. I really, really hated it. Is it possible that all of the comments made by my colleagues were starting to make me feel like I didn’t look good, or was this actually how I felt about my natural self?
Day 5 – Friday
Always the most gruelling day of the week for me, and due to my little no makeup experiment, I was falling into a depressive state. I realized that it wasn’t how I looked that was making me depressed, it was the unexpected feelings of self-loathing attached the experiment that I hadn’t prepared myself for. I didn’t know that my experiment would have such a profound impact on my emotional/psychological wellbeing. My crisis was almost existential.
I started avoiding the mirrors at work and used the handicapped toilet (shame on me!) that didn’t have a mirror. I got a few smirks from colleagues who inquired how my experiment was going when they could see I was extremely grumpy about the whole thing.
Day 6 – Saturday
WEEKEND! After some catch up on sleep, I had a slightly more balanced perspective on my situation. It wasn’t so bad, and I was learning some things about myself that I didn’t know before (like maybe my self esteem wasn’t as high as I thought). During the afternoon I heavily debated the application of makeup for a hot date I had with my hot boyfriend (see told you I high self esteem!) I had my outfit and accessories all picked out and spent a long time doing my hair. Then I caved in. I had to wear makeup, I just didn’t look complete without it.
In the taxi on the way to the restaurant I downloaded a mirror application onto my Iphone (I never carry a mirror with me). During the meal I had to check my makeup a few times in the Iphone mirror, it was like I didn’t believe that it was actually there. Ok, whew it was, order had been restored. My boyfriend asked me why I kept checking my Iphone (at home and during meals, I’m a no-Iphone/blackberry nazi) so this was out of character for me. I confessed about my experiment. My boyfriend doesn’t see me during the week so he wasn’t aware how traumatic my week had been. When I explained, he thought I was crazy. “But I see you all of the time without make up and you look beautiful, in fact you look better because that’s the real you!” Awwww…. Just the thing a good boyfriend is supposed to say, a good boyfriend who is also a liar.
Day 7 – Sunday
Another weekend day and I didn’t have any plans to go out so it was easy to stick to the no makeup rule, despite yesterday’s relapse. Even though it was the last day of the experiment I decided to continue not wearing makeup. If I could make it 1 week (not including relapse) without makeup then what was the point of going back to the old routine? Until I could be happy with myself without makeup and resolve the issues that the experiment had brought up, then I didn’t think it would be right to start wearing it again everyday. It also made me think of how your skin is a barometer for your health. If I can see my big dark circles then I know that I absolutely have to prioritize my health and try to sleep more. Or if I’m having a break out, I probably need to change my eating habits or see a doctor if the change of diet doesn’t help because it could be something more serious like a kidney infection. It’s important to be able to see these things on my face and not hide behind a mask.
One Month Later
What a difference a month makes! I’m getting an extra hour of sleep each week and I feel a lot better about myself. I’ve set myself some ground rules to reintroduce makeup slowly back into my life. I only wear makeup when I’m going out in the evenings or anywhere where I think I may be photographed. I even tested myself by allowing a few photographs without makeup and I even liked some of them. I think this is real progress.
Furthermore, I rediscovered how much fun it is to play with makeup! I bought Lauren Luke’s book and experimented with new looks and colors, something I’d not done since I was a teenager. It brought back so many happy memories of rifling through my mom’s makeup drawer and trying new things, most of which ended up disaster due to my inexperience and the fact that we have completely different colouring.
Whilst catching up with old friends, I did casually mention that I wasn’t wearing makeup regularly anymore. I got the same surprised reactions as I did on day 1 of the experiment from my colleagues. However, I hope that by putting my experience out there, it will make other women think about the things that they take for granted. How many other women out there hide behind their makeup? They might not even be aware that they are doing it, I sure wasn’t. I challenge all of you women out there to try going a week without makeup and see what you discover. It might not be at all what you thought.